While in Thailand we visited the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary. This 25+ acre complex was originally built by the founder, Mr. Montri Todtane, with the help of the heralded Lek Sangduen Chailert. Mr. Todtane had a simple intention: create a retirement home for his trusted two elephants who had worked with him giving treks to tourist. He loved his large four-legged companions, and wanted their final years (SE Asian can live up to 60 years) to be restful and relaxing. In 2016, his dream came true and he and his elephants moved into their new home.
Fast forward not even 3 years, and the home has transformed into a rescue sanctuary for 12 elephants (3 of whom recently passed in peace). The complex is astounding not merely for its amenities (vast stomping grounds bountiful with banana trees, a hydrotherapy pool for his ailing residents, and a reception center which hosts a delicious lunch/dinner buffet complimentary with each ticket purchase). What is most impressive for me however is the evolution of a dream. What started as an intention by Mr. Todtane to give his two beloved elephants, Madee and Kannika, a safe place to retire, quickly, somewhat seamlessly and naturally evolved into a place where aging and injured elephants are purchased (yes – they must be bought from their owners who likely would otherwise work these majestic creatures to death – quite literally), rescued, and rehabilitated. As often is the case, the new additions to the sanctuary are compassionately and carefully nursed back to good health. All residents are allowed to roam, socialize and bath freely, and lovingly live without performance demands (and also without bull hooks, ear-clippings, and ankle chains).
To me, the success of the Sanctuary is in part due to the selflessness of its Founder. He wanted to help the animals that he deeply cared about. It started with two that he knew, and from there it grew. The Sanctuary is now equipped to handle 25 elephants, which the Founder is actively working towards acquiring. Each purchase requires ongoing negotiations because in most cases, the elephants acquired are the owner’s sole-income source.
Making money was never part of the equation. Yet because Mr. Todtane is able to sell tickets to tourists like ourselves who want an authentic, compassion-based introduction to the majestic Asian elephant, he his able to put those profits back into the care and well-being of a growing elephant population.
On a very insular scale, the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary inspires me to focus on the intention of my efforts. Do I believe that what I’m putting my time and talent into is worthy of success? Am I solving a problem? In short, does it help the greater good?
For me, that’s the elephant in the room. Up until this point in my life, I’ve done nothing altruistic of note. I’m ready for that to change. And I like the two elephant approach. Proceed with care, caution and first and foremost, start with big, beautiful, benevolent intention.